Rodney's role: 'I am not a wheeler dealer'

Rodney Thomas is mad. It's one day after a prominent blogger has accused the Albemarle supervisor of agreeing to "grease the skids" for the construction of the Western U.S. 29 bypass by limiting access to the rest of 29.

"That's a bunch of baloney," says Thomas. He called up blogger Jim Bacon to let him know he didn't appreciate his August 10 Bacon's Rebellion story, "Gentleman's Agreement," that contends Thomas made a handshake deal to limit stoplights, median crossings, and driveways on Albemarle's portion of U.S. 29 in exchange for $230 million in funding for the Western 29 bypass and U.S. 29 widening, along with money for completion of Hillsdale Drive, the Best Buy Ramp at U.S. 29/250, Berkmar Drive extension, and the Belmont Bridge replacement.

(Bacon considered Thomas' reaction in a followup column, "When does a deal become a side deal?")

"There is no deal," says Thomas.

Limiting access– or access management, as it's called– is already in place with future access to 29 controlled by VDOT, says Thomas. Not creating any more bottlenecks like stoplights and median crossovers seems a reasonable expectation to keep traffic moving.

Yet the fact remains that, along with fellow freshman supe Duane Snow, also elected in 2009, Thomas has been instrumental in resurrecting the long-buried Western 29 bypass from the grave. As chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Commission, the native Charlottesvillian has been hearing lots of citizen outrage. And support.

"Most people are for the bypass," says Thomas. "There's a small, loud group that jumps up and down and is very passionate."

If Thomas is convinced that most Albemarleans want the bypass, he doesn't seem quite prepared for the blowback for getting it back on the table.

"He's surprised people are angry?" asks the Piedmont Environmental Council's Jeff Werner. "He takes the most most controversial project in 20 years and rams it through in a midnight vote." Werner offers Thomas a suggestion: "Put on your boy pants."

"I don't really care what the Piedmont Environmental Council says," responds Thomas, who could probably say more, but that might seem ungentlemanly.

"Gentleman" is the first word Chamber of Commerce president Tim Hulbert uses to describe Thomas. "He's always very fair-minded and open," says Hulbert. "Rodney listens. He's a pretty straight-shooting guy."

Thomas is friends with the owners of Harris Trucking in Lynchburg, but he tells a reporter, "Lynchburg and Danville didn't have anything to do with the Bypass. I told my friends not to get in touch with me in any way."

Owner of Charlottesville Press, Republican Thomas won his Rio District election on a platform of keeping the property tax rate low and pushing the board to create a climate of business and economic vitality. If he had the Bypass on his mind, he didn't campaign on it.

"I'm a little upset we swept this under the rug for 10 or 12 years," says Thomas. And he doesn't really want the Bypass to end– as it will– just south of Hollymead Town Center. "I would hope the state would attach the bypass on up to Culpeper."

While Thomas says he's accomplished some objectives, he says he's "not sure" about running again. And he makes a request of a reporter: "Don't get me in any more trouble."


The article written by conservative Jim Bacon at Bacon's Rebellion about Rodney Thomas and the western bypass was subsidized by the Piedmont Environmental Council, an organization that supports huge taxpayer subsidies for the land-use tax abatements and "conservation" easements that go primarily to protect and support the estates of Virginia's landed gentry.

Jim Bacon claims that one of his core principles is that "free markets" are the most efficient way to "allocate resources" (uh-huh...doesn't seem to be working so well right now does it Jim?). Yet he partners with a group that heartily endorses taxpayer subsidization of the wealthy under the guise of protecting the environment.

Of course, Bacon recently gave big play to a badly-researched and inaccurate report on public education from the Heartland Institute, a right-wing organization that promulgates "limited government and free markets" as the core elements of all social and public policies. Naturally, the Heartland Institute refuse to disclose who funds it.

In his June 21, 2011 screed, Bacon repeats the Heartland astounding conclusion that Virginia's public schools are the "worst in the country," when virtually every other substantive analysis finds Virginia among the top states for education in the nation. Parroting the stupidity of the Heartland Institute, Bacon writes that "the Virginia school system is...far removed from a market-based school system." Perhaps that's why it's called public education, Jim. Duh.

Like many conservatives, Bacon overlooks the historical antecedents of public education in America (perhaps paradoxically, or hypocritically, Bacon's undergraduate degree is in history from the University of Virginia, a public institution). Education is a democratic society has a special place and purpose. Aristotle grasped this more than two thousand years ago in arguing for a system of public education in Athens, saying that "education should be one and the same for all...public, and not private." 

In America after the Revolution early state constitutions, like those of Massachusetts (1780) and New Hampshire (1784) set up and stressed the importance of a system of public education. The Land Ordinance of 1785 provided for public school financing in new territories. In Virginia, Thomas Jefferson sought a publicly-funded system of schools, believing that an educated citizenry was critical to the well-being of a democratic society. In his Notes on the State of Virginia (1794), Jefferson wrote “The influence over government must be shared along all men.”

In Jim Bacon's conservatively-skewed view, vouchers and more charter schools are the path to education "reform" (this, by the way is also endorsed by the likes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable: it's called corporate-style "reform," and it doesn't work). Yet, the most comprehensive national study of charter schools, for example, found only 17 percent provide better "opportunities for their students," and "nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options" and "37 percent deliver learning results that are SIGNIFICANTLY WORSE their students would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools" [emphasis mine].  

Most people comprehend that public education is essential to the "vitality of the economy and well being of a community." Apparently Jim Bacon is at odds with his own proclaimed "principles."

Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and a host of other Founders understood the critical importance of public education to democratic citizenship. Conservatives, however much they like to flaunt the rhetoric, have never really warmed up to the concept of popular sovereignty ("We, the people." or "government of the people, by the people, for the people"). Perhaps that's why they are so active in voter suppression efforts (see, for example"

In Bacon's myopic view of the world, more home schooling and more charter schools and vouchers are the means to better the "civic realm." If the public and politicians don't heed, then we should "fear for future generations."

And there are people who take this guy seriously? Please.

A vote at midnight with the public already gone to ram through the bypass after years of doing nothing on it? I'm sorry Mr. Thomas, you get what you pay for. I don't really care what this blogger says. Your actions speak for themselves. It was sneaky and blindsided the rest of the board and the public. The majority want the bypass? Then why wasn't it completed years ago? Had to get the earthen dam at Ragged Mountain squared away first so environmentalists couldn't complain it goes over the major water supply?

This should not have been done at the end of a board meeting the way it was without the public's input. It just paves the way for all kinds of conspiracies on the deals made to get it.

Well, I don't know if it's a "deal" a "side deal" or just plain common sense - the whole reason we need bypasses at various places along the US-29 North-South corridor is that we have not had "access management" in the past, and we've allowed a proliferation of stoplights, median crossings (left turns) and driveways (which is misleading, think strip mall for a fuller appreciation), clogging up what should be a free-flowing major highway. Which leads me to this:

@Democracy - I agree with you: Bacon is a pro-business, "free market" (a farcical term) "conservative". That means what he really does is shill for development, not for land conservation. The "free market" crowd is anxious to make sure their ability to cash in by 'developing' their road-front real estate (Wendell Wood, Charlie Hurt, et al) on US-29 isn't in any way impinged by "access management". In practice, this means they want the ability to put up a stoplight and a left turn lane for any parcel they choose. One of the most egregious examples of this is the stoplight on US-29 in Ruckersville, just north of the US-33 intersection for the "Gateway Center" (Lowes). Completely unnecessary - Lowe's access from US-33 is ample.

Bacon is merely shilling for the North Charlottesville Business Council, not the Piedmont Environmental Council. Why invent a convoluted conspiracy when simple motives suffice?

"Most people are for the bypass," says Thomas. Um... given that the majority of the people who have attended all the hearings are against it, where does he come up with "most"? Has there been a professional poll done? Why does the Hook let him get away with making an unsupported statement? This is one of my beefs with American media. Instead of challenging people, they allow themselves to be used as a mouthpiece. Where's all these "most people," Hook? Can you find them?

As a challenger of the ‘western bypass’, I have to say Mr. Thomas has been quite gracious with me: we spoke for about two hours in his office before the first MPO hearing, and he shook my hand and was very kind on the day of the CTB meeting in Richmond. Mr. Thomas’ attitude was in stark contrast to the unbelievably rude and disrespectful conduct we saw from Secretary Connaughton that day.

As benign as he has been with me, I am a little offended that Mr. Thomas refers to those of us trying to fight this poorly plotted and incomplete road design as a 'small, loud group that jumps up and down'. We are concerned citizens, thoughtfully voicing our opposition of this inefficiently planned road and the process by which it was brought back to life.

Sadly, what we have now is an "F" rated plan for a 'connector road', which will leave us with a STILL "F" rated US 29. Mr. Utterback, Mr. Snow and Mr. Thomas have crushed any hope for a true bypass of our growth area, and as I have stated before, and I will not be surprised if the road, as designed, will fall to litigation or legislation, preventing it from ever being built. If it does get built, I fully expect Lynchburg and Danville to come knocking in another twenty years, asking our children to build a real bypass, as the proposed road is certainly not one.

Time will tell on all of the above, but Mr. Thomas and his colleagues should not be surprised by the fight that has only just begun, and VDOT would be well-served by looking again at eastern alternatives. The Commonwealth needs a TRUE bypass.

Does the headline "I am not a wheeler dealer" immediately bring any other famous quotes to anyone else's mind? The Hook is not so dumb.

Virtually anyone who's followed the western bypass process knows that the proposed route might have made sense 20 years ago (when Charlottes Humphris, a board of supervisors member, and other of the Colthurst Farms and Garth Road and estate-minded cabal began their opposition), but it makes little sense today. The proposed route runs roughly from the Forest Lakes area on 29 North to the St. Anne's Belfield-UVa area on the current bypass...basically running from a developed area to a developed area.

If (when?) this bypass is constructed, it will almost certainly have to be bypassed again in the not-so-distant future bringing new meaning to Einstein's saying that "The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits."

@Scott: Jim Bacon may indeed be a shill "for the North Charlottesville Business Council." I was merely pointing out that the article he wrote about Rodney Thomas was (as he notes on his website) "reported and written thanks to a sponsorship by the Piedmont Environmental Council." In other words, the PEC paid him to shill for the landed gentry.

Sounds like Bacon should be working for the hook.

MostPeopleorNot wrote, "...Can you find them?"

Here we are! and there are lots more like us!

Public education across the country has been stripped of its main goal - to educate. Too much money is being poured into the so-called education system so that we, the taxpayer, can feed kids breakfast, have school bus stops every 20 feet - heaven forbid a kid should ever walk, pour monies into sports programs, etc. I just wish education could be about learning the facts (not anyone's political or social agenda) and let local charities, civic organizations, etc. provide the extras like sports, music, theatre, art, etc. (which I do feel are valuable and necessary, just not at the expense of the taxpayer).Yes, children are a society's most valuable investment, but it is not up to the public to feed, clothe, socialize, moralize and raise the children. Let's bring back personal responsibility.

Wake Up says "let's bring back personal responsibility."

Does he mean the kind of "personal responsibility" exhibited by the big bankers and hedge funders who essentially decimated the economy through their fraudulent trades and sales...who took taxpayer bailouts and continue to rake in bonuses because of taxpayer subsidies, but who still deny they did anything wrong and don't want to pay anything extra in taxes?

Does he mean the "personal responsibility" demonstrated by conservative politicians (and voters) who pushed for and implemented supply-side economic policies cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy, that piled up budget deficits and ballooned the national debt, that aided and abetted corruption on Wall Street, and that caused millions of job losses and broke the economy...and who now steadfastly refuse to accept any accountability for what they've done, and blame others for their failures, and demand even more of their toxic medicine?

Perhaps he refers to the "personal responsibility" of those who spout rhetoric about the Constitution but who have read little or none of it, or those who wrap themselves in the flag but oppose ideas and policies that manifest the core values of democracy, like popular sovereignty, freedoms for all citizens, equality, justice, tolerance and promoting the general welfare of society.

The historically central mission of public schooling was democratic citizenship. As Aristotle noted more then two millennia ago, "the character of democracy creates democracy..." Public schools not only help to socialize children into American culture, but they also politicize them into the ideas and beliefs and principles and values critical to the maintenance of a democratic nation.

Dear Wake Up...please wake up.

@democracy: I couldn't have said it better myself. You rock.

You need to wake up, Wake Up. I totally agree with you about schools not being allowed to educate, but thats because parents want to treat them as babysitters. And he right is everybit as bad about that as they claim the left is. Making sure children have enough to eat is not a bad thing, but spending time ranting about teaching things like 'creationism' is, especially when the same group want facts but not ideology.

You also seem to have a really limited idea about the place of art in education, and what, in fact, it really teaches us. It teaches the MOST important aspects in an entreprenueral and competitive society- how to envision something, build it, and get it out into the public eye for consumption/use. Its about producing and consumption, which our entire economic basis is built on. You need not be a great artist to garner all those things from practicing art. There are also strong correlations between music, especially classical music, and math.

Maybe if taught a little bit more art, and a little less about entitlement, and rewarding Wall Street stir and skim income, we might actually be creating jobs, and leading the way in the world.

Yeah, I agree with you on the school bus thing. No wonder our children are getting so fat.How are we going to have an army in another ten years?

Why change his photo?

@MostPeopleOrNot (and anyone else who thinks the the outspoken crowd at Board meetings is a "majority") - Yes, there was an independent poll done in April 2004 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc.

20% of Charlottesville residents oppose the bypass, 67% support it, and 13% were "not sure."

21% of Albemarle residents oppose the bypass, 63% support it, and 16% were not sure.

the shame of it that it won't be effective in reducing traffic.

if it does make 29 a more favorable route for trucks from Danville then it will INCREASE traffic where it dumps back out onto 29 at Forest Lakes and Hollymead. Who could possibly design such a stupid plan? I think he's not a wheeler dealer but worse - just a limited capacity guy not thinking it through very well. Boyd too - at least we can vote him out this fall.